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Picket Lines Come to Ring Road as 48,000 UC Academic Workers Begin Strike

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated on 11/18/22 with UCOP’s response to a statement request.

The UC Academic Workers Union UAW, which consists of UAW 2865, UAW 5810 and SRU–UAW, held the first day of its UC system-wide strike on Nov. 14.

Touted by UAW leadership as the largest strike in U.S. higher education history, hundreds of graduate student researchers, teaching assistants and postdoctoral fellows left their posts and gathered across different locations across UC campuses. At UCI, strikers were seen marching along portions of Ring Road, holding hand-made picket signs, beating makeshift drums and roaring chants. In total, about 48,000 academic workers across all 10 UC campuses have participated so far.

The strike came a month after the UAW passed a resolution to hold a strike authorization vote, which passed on Nov. 2 with 98% of participating union members voting yes.

Core demands of the UAW include a 14% salary increase for academic researchers, a $54,000/year minimum salary for all graduate student workers and a $70,000 minimum salary for postdoctoral scholars. The UC administration is currently offering a 4% salary increase for academic researchers, a 7% increase for graduate student workers and a 7.5% increase for postdoctoral scholars. Such increases would bring the pay of graduate student workers to somewhere between $24,874-$30,893, roughly half of what the UAW is asking, and $60,000-$71,952 for postdoctoral scholars, which falls short of the UAW’s $70,000 minimum request by about $10,000.

“We believe that the UC knows its graduate students are financially precarious,” said Jackie Ku, Irvine unit chair of UAW 2865. “I mean, how could they not know? They are the ones that cut our paychecks and then take half of those paychecks back in monthly rent and in bills every month … graduate students are getting to the point where it simply is untenable.”

Allegations concerning illegal bargaining practices have also been made against the UC by the UAW. The UC stated that it “strongly disagrees” with the UAW’s claims that the UC has engaged in unlawful behavior and that “despite these claims, UC remains committed to continuing its good faith efforts to reach agreements with UAW as quickly as possible.” The UC also stated that the strike could “adversely impact students and other members of the UC community” and that it “believes its proposals have been fair, reasonable and responsive to the union’s priorities.”

A New University editor reached out to the University of California Office of the President (UCOP), which referred to the UC’s statement saying “affordable housing remains an issue for individuals and families throughout California, including for many UC students, faculty and staff, and increasing access to affordable student housing is a top UC priority.” The UC also stated that it has “offered wage increases for all UAW members which would further help them meet their housing needs.” 

Demonstrators march past the Biological Sciences building on Ring Road. Photo by Simon Jeau / Staff

In addition to higher wages, housing costs remain a sensitive issue for UC graduate students, with the UAW arguing that the UC administration’s lack of an adequate cost of living adjustment is to blame for a loss of top candidates for UC graduate institutions. Data from the UC Graduate Support Survey shows that prospective graduate students rate their top-choice UCs as higher in academic reputation, more aligned with their research interests, superior in quality of faculty, more preferable in location and more diverse than their top choice non-UC counterparts. Yet, by significant margins of -9.2% and -25.6% respectively, respondents ranked the amount of financial support and availability of affordable housing from their top choice UC school to be lower than their non-UC top choice schools. 

Despite UC rents being roughly 20-25% below market rates, rent burden is still a pressing issue for graduate students, with a UAW bargaining survey conducted earlier this year finding that 90% of academic student employees across the UC are rent burdened, and that the average academic student employee pays more than 50% of their income on rent. 

The 4-10% wage increase proposals currently being presented by the UC to help alleviate housing costs, among other proposals made by the UC, have been deemed unacceptable by the UAW bargaining team. The UAW stated that the strike “will last until the University corrects its bad faith conduct, or until union membership decides to cease striking.”

Simon Jeau is a Campus News Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. He can be reached at sjeau@uci.edu.